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Available from Dutch Radio 4
(only until 31 December 2008)

Free Concertgebouw Orchestra concert downloads to celebrate the orchestra’s 120th anniversary
Beethoven – Symphony No. 2 (Jansons, 2004)
Brahms – Symphony No. 2 (Jansons, 2004)
Bruckner – Symphony No. 8 (Haitink, 2005)
Dvořák - Symphony No. 8 (Giulini, 1990)
Franck – Symphony in D minor (Jansons, 2004)
Mahler – Symphony No. 1 (Bernstein, 1987)
Mendelssohn – Symphony No. 4 (Kondrashin, 1979)
Saint-Saëns – Symphony No. 3 (Chung, 2005)
Schubert – Symphony No. 8 (Harnoncourt, 1997)
Sibelius – Symphony No. 2 (Jansons, 2005)


There is an old saying that “the best things in life are free”. Of course, this could be debated but here, perhaps, is a little supportive evidence. What seems not to be in doubt is that the freeness of these downloads is time-limited. Thus I have put together this brief summary having heard all bar one of these recordings just once. The other one I haven’t even heard yet – the Bruckner – but MusicWeb has a review of what I assume is this performance on disc by John Quinn, and experience suggests that it is unlikely that I would dissent from his generally positive response. The Beethoven and Brahms have also been issued on the RCO live label and reviewed by JQ, these were a Bargain of the Month in June 2005.

I should first make it clear what is involved: essentially a brief registration procedure followed by e-mail verification. The website makes it clear that the recordings are individual, personal use only. They are provided as mp3 files at high specification – 320kbps and, with a reasonable broadband connection, they could all be downloaded in a few hours. They can then easily be burnt to CD using Windows Media Player. The Bruckner is an exception in this respect because it is a single file – as they all are, there are no “tracks” – over 80 minutes long and won’t fit on to one CD. To solve this problem I downloaded some free software called Audacity (the 1.3 Beta version) enabling conversion to a wave file and editing so as to split it into two parts. It would also be easy enough to remove some loud and tedious verbals in Dutch which follow the applause at the end of each performance. After editing it is necessary to “export” the edited file – I did this in the .wav format which takes up quite a lot of space on the computer but retains the high-quality. Windows Media Player will happily burn such a file to CD but if you want to export an edited file back to the mp3 format then the quality seems to be reduced to 128kbps as the default. By putting the first movement of the Bruckner after the Mahler and coupling Beethoven/Brahms, Franck/Saint-Saëns, Schubert/Dvořák and Mendelssohn/Sibelius, I was able to fit the whole lot onto 6 CDs. Covers for the CDs can also be downloaded although they don't contain more information about performance dates than is given above.

The results sound pretty good and these recordings have plenty of presence. I suspect that the comparable discs have been edited whereas here there is rustling before the music starts, coughing between movements and appreciative applause at the end. Wild cheering might be more accurate in relation to Bernstein’s Mahler. As one would expect, this is an interesting interpretation but it is also conspicuously the least well played of the ten works, the brass having something of an off-day. Apart from the Beethoven and Brahms seconds, which are every bit as good as JQ suggests, Jansons’s Franck is also a highlight although I thought his Sibelius 2 was not particularly distinctive. Unfortunately a mobile phone goes off in a quiet passage somewhere near the beginning of the second movement in the Franck.

Giulini’s Dvořák is another highlight and I also enjoyed Chung’s Organ Symphony greatly. Harnoncourt’s Unfinished surprised me a little (although perhaps nothing NH does should surprise one) – it is very big-boned and full of gravitas. By contrast Kondrashin’s Italian symphony is as light as a feather. Brass in the Mahler apart, the orchestra is a joy to listen to and I shall return to this collection with great pleasure, I am sure. If you’re reading this post-31 December hard luck but you could investigate the Beethoven/Brahms, Bruckner and Sibelius as they are available on commercial SACD through the orchestra’s website.

I am grateful to Tim Perry for alerting us to this pleasurable opportunity via the bulletin board. Happy downloading!

Patrick C Waller



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